Though most people have a natural fear of snakes, most snakes in the world are either harmless to humans or very mildly venomous. Yet, the venom from some poisonous species can and do kill people.
Every year, some 1 to 2 million people worldwide get bitten by snakes - including by non-venomous species- and between 50,000 and 100,000 of these bites kill the victim.
In Australia, which has the highest percentage of deadly snakes, only 3 to 4 snake bites result in the death of the victim annually. The bulk of the snake bite victims, worldwide are to be found in populous Asia, which is less known for its venomous snakes, and the country with the most annual snakebite deaths is the small island nation of Sri Lanka. Following are the most venomous and dangerous snakes found on the vast Asian continent.
Cobras are the most common venomous snake in South East Asia, the most densely populated part of the world. In this region, cobras venture very close to where people live and work, and people usually go barefoot. On top of all, many areas lack accessible and adequate medical facilities and people often seek out traditional medicine instead. All these factors combined with the fact that Asiatic cobras have a highly toxic venom result in many deaths by these snakes: probably around 40,000 in that area.
- King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
Though its neurotoxic venom is not the most toxic of Asian snakes, the potential venom yield in a bite is said to be sufficient to kill an elephant. Without medical aid death is certain for its victims. The King Cobra is, however, not very aggressive, unless defending a nest - it is the only snake which constructs a nest for the sole purpose of laying its eggs - and causes relatively few bites to humans.
The King Cobra feeds almost exclusively on other snakes, but avoids attacking other venomous species for fear of being bitten.
- Common Cobra or Asiatic Cobra (Naja naja)
A very common species found all over Asia. It is responsible for many deaths each year, partly because it is often found in cultivated farms, fields and even inside human dwellings where it searches for rodents. When aroused or threatened, the cobra will readily bite. Its venom is highly neurotoxic, causing respiratory paralysis with some tissue damage.
-Egyptian Cobra (Naja haje)
This extremely dangerous mainly African snake, responsible for many deaths, is also found in Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia.
Once aroused or threatened, it will attack and continue to do so until it feels an escape is possible. Its neurotoxic venom - much stronger than the Common Cobra's - causes paralysis and death due to respiratory failure. Like the Common Cobra, the Egyptian Cobra is often found in cultivated areas and even around homes, searching for rodents.
- Green Tree Pit Viper (Trimeresurus gramineus)
This small arboreal snake lives in India, Burma, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, and Formosa. Though not considered a deadly species, it remains dangerous especially because most of its bites occur in the head, shoulder, and neck areas.
- Habu Pit Viper (Trimeresurus flavoviridis)
This Japanes snake - Kyushu, Okinawa and neighboring islands - is often found in old houses and rock walls surrounding buildings. It is responsible for biting many humans, and its bite can be fatal. It is quite aggressive and has an haemotoxic venom which causes pain and considerable tissue damage.
- Wagler's Pit Viper or Temple Viper (Trimeresurus wagleri)
This arboreal snake is found in the Malaysian Peninsula and Archipelago, Indonesia, Borneo, the Philippines, and the Japanes Ryuku Islands. It is also known as the temple viper because some religious cults place it in their temples. Though bites are common, fatalities from its haemotoxic venom - it causes cell and tissue destruction - are very rare.
- Malayan Pit Viper (Callaselasma rhodostoma)
This southeastern Asian snake - it occurs in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Java, Sumatra, Malaysia, Vietnam, Burma and Chin - has long fangs and is considered aggressive. It is responsible for many bites, usually inflicted when people step on it. The Malaysian Pit Viper's venom is haemotoxic, destroying blood cells and tissue, but a victim's chances of survival are good with medical aid.
- Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus)
This small viper gets the name saw-scaled because it rubs the sides of its body together, producing a rasping sound. It occurs in Asia, Syria, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka (and also in Algeria and Egypt), and is often found close to habitations.
This ill-tempered snake will attack any intruder. Its venom is highly haemotoxic.
The Saw-scaled Viper is responsible for more human deaths in Asia that all the other venomous Asian snakes combined. Its highly haemotoxic venom is said to be 5 times more toxic than that of cobras and 16 more toxic than that of the Russell's Viper.
- Horned Desert Viper (Cerastes cerastes)
This small viper occurs in very arid places in Iran, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, and Africa. Living in the desert, it burrows itself in the sand to escape the heat of the day, and comes out at night to hunt. Many bites occur when the invisible buried snake is accidentally stepped on. The Horned Desert Viper's venom is haemotoxic.
- Russell's Viper (Vipera russellii)
The Russell's Viper is often found around human settlements, and is responsible for many fatalities, notably in Sri Lanka.
This irritable snake preys essentially on rodents but will also kill cats, squirrels, crabs, and even scorpions.
If it feel threatened, the Russell's Viper will coil tightly, hiss, and strike with such speed that its victim has little chance of escaping. Its haemotoxic venom is a powerful coagulant, causing pain, swelling and bleeding, as well as decreased blood pressure and heart rate. Furthermore, unlike many snakes which produce little to no venom when biting defensively, the Russell's Viper is famous for it's tenacity in self-defense and almost always delivers a lethal quantity of venom.
- Palestinian Viper (Vipera palaestinae)
Like its close relative, the Russell's Viper, the Palestinian Viper of Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan, is considered extremely dangerous. It hunts for rodents at night, when it is most aggressive, and will venture into barns, stables, or even houses. Its quick strikes are similar to those of the Russell's Viper.
- Levant Viper (Vipera lebetina)
A large and dangerous viper occurring from the Mediterranean to the Near and Middle East, in Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and the lower portion of the former USSR. It is quite an aggressive species and its haemotoxic venom is responsible for many deaths.
- McMahon's Viper (Eristicophis macmahonii)
This rare nocturnal viper from western Pakista and Afghanistan is very irritable; it hisses, coils, and strikes at any intruder that ventures too close. Its venom is highly haemotoxic, causing great pain and tissue damage.
- Common Indian Krait (Bungarus caeruleus)
It is considered to be 15 times more deadly than the Common Cobra. Its venom is a powerful neurotoxin that causes sleepiness and respiratory failure, killing most human victims who don't receive antivenin.
- Malayan Krait (Bungarus candidus)
This southeast Asian and Indonesian snake is shy and nocturnal, so most bites occur when people are sleeping or walking on paths in the dark. 50% of the bites from this snake are fatal to humans, even when they receive an antivenin treatment.
- Hook-nosed Sea Snake
This sea snake lives along the coastlines of southern Asia. Its preferred prey are fish, which the snake paralyzes with its venom. Attacks on humans are very uncommon, but the Hook-nosed Sea Snake has the potential to cause death with as little as 1.5 milligrams of its highly toxic venom.
by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.